Bill Belichick wants to see if this Patriots team (like several others) can show ‘mental toughness’
|08.19.14 at 10:12 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Bill Belichick hasn’t seen much losing in his career as a head coach, especially in New England.
The only sub-.500 season Belichick has endured with the Patriots was his first, when the 2000 team went 5-11. The next season, his team started 0-2 but ended up as Super Bowl champions. He’s been a record-setting winner ever since.
In Cleveland, of course, it was different. He had losing seasons in four of his five seasons by Lake Erie and endured the most arduous end to a season imaginable. So, Belichick does remember what losing was like. And he remembers something else, a bad feeling in training camp and preseason usually is never followed by a successful regular season.
On Tuesday, he explained why.
“I think it’s probably just an overall feeling,” Belichick said. “Just the way that the team works, the way they respond to the things they’re asked to do in camp and how they handle some of the tests that they’re put through. It’s a grind. It’s tough. It’s a very competitive situation. It’s a challenge for the team ‘ not just the players – but the entire organization to handle all the things you have to handle in training camp, without something kind of internally being a problem and being ready to go.”
There was no bigger potential distraction than what the 2013 Patriots had to deal with heading into camp, when star tight end Aaron Hernandez was released after being charged with the June 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd. But that was dealt with on the first day. There was the forearm injury of Rob Gronkowski and whether he would be ready to start the season. That actually became a bigger soap opera but eventually he returned and the team rolled to a second straight 12-4 season and a third straight trip to the AFC championship.
In 2011, owner Robert Kraft lost his wife Myra over the summer after helping negotiate the end of the labor impasse. That year, inspired from the start, the Patriots overcame the Ravens in the AFC championship and nearly overcame Rob Gronkowski‘s bum ankle in a heart-breaking Super Bowl loss to the Giants. The seed of toughness of the 2011 and 2013 teams were sowed in the summer.
“You have to be able to show some mental toughness, some ability to block out distractions and focus on your job and improving individually and as a team and all those things,” Belichick reminded everyone Tuesday. “If you can do those over a training camp period of, call it six weeks, then it’s probably a pretty good indication that you have a chance to do it during the year. If you don’t, then it’s probably an indication that when the pressure really comes on during the season, which the pressure is going to mount for the team as the season goes, I’d say the likelihood of it all just magically coming together without a legitimate foundation, I haven’t had a lot of great experience with that.”
In 2001, the Patriots started 0-2, lost their starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe to a life-threatening injury and had an offensive lineman in Joe Andruzzi, whose brother helped save lives at Ground Zero on 9/11. The Patriots somehow managed to overcome the distractions and play with the right kind of emotion, finishing 11-5 en route to a stunning Super Bowl win that started a dynasty.
Of course, Belichick has seen the flip side when his 1995 Browns were submarined by owner Art Modell‘s mid-season announcement he was moving to Baltimore in 1996. The City of Cleveland was devastated and that Browns team could never recover, finishing 5-11.